Writing Center

Methods, Spring 2018


Method refers broadly to the system of principles, ideas, and theories that undergird any substantive scholarly project. Academics often refer to a set of methods as a methodology, which refers more specifically to any number of research conventions typical of a particular field or discipline. For instance, under this framework, the close reading of written texts, the distinction between primary and secondary sources, and the use of archives for the discovery of primary documents all comprise distinct methods. Taken together, they represent part of the methodology of history as a field of study.

Method is thus crucial to most scholarly works because it allows readers to position the papers that they read in a recognized category. In humanistic disciplines, methodology often manifests as an analytical framework for the understanding of evidence. In the social and natural sciences, methodology enables authors to provide strategies for reproducible results.

Though methodology is often bound by understood conventions and systemic methods familiar to academics within a certain field, it is also possible to discern a range of methodologies in scholarly projects that adopt interdisciplinary approaches to answer their research questions. By employing the analytical frameworks from a range of disciplines, these projects can propose bold arguments with unexpected implications. The papers excerpted in this section are emblematic of this approach.

Example 1: Light and Fire in August: Violence, Body, and the Dichotomy between Spiritual and Savage by Nina Wang

Example 2: Reducing Invasive Species Establishment in the U.S. via the Pet and Horticulture Trades by Sonia Howlett

Orienting, Spring 2018


Everyone wants to make an argument that matters—literarily, artistically, historically, politically, socially, culturally… the list goes on and on. For undergraduates just beginning their academic career, however, this is no easy task. The “so what?” factor is always looming over us, whether we’re writing a ten- to twelve-page research paper during freshman year or a several hundred-page thesis.

What’s the significance of my argument? What does it add to the scholarly conversation? How is what I’m saying new and exciting, not just to a scholarly audience, but also to the world? Orienting tackles all these questions. It’s the art of contextualizing your argument in some broader sense that makes it fresh, meaningful, and perhaps even vital. But orienting, although its proportions can be gigantic—in some cases changing the world and our understanding of it—is actually a very delicate process. Orienting pervades almost every aspect of the well-written essay. Some common aspects include the orienting of key terms and context, the motive of the argument, and an extension of the thesis. But for all this theoretical ideating on what framing is and where it surfaces, it’s easiest to see how and where orienting works when it’s in action.

Example 1: Modeling the Model Minority: Does the Immigrant Health Paradox Apply to Asian Migrants’ Mental Health?  by Diana Chao

Example 2: Thaw-Era Portrayals of Mental Illness: Realist or Socialist? by Leora Eisenberg

Orienting, Spring 2018

Thaw-Era Portrayals of Mental Illness: Realist or Socialist?

In a Tortoiseshell: In this excerpt, author Leora Eisenberg concisely introduces and connects three disparate topics. In addition to providing the necessary background for a nonspecialist reader, she also artfully orients her reader to the arguments she will later make in her close-reading and analysis sections.

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Excerpt / Leora Eisenberg

There seems to be no academic conversation on mental illness in Soviet socialist realist film, particularly with regard to the Thaw. With that in mind, I have used the scholarly discourse on socialist realism, particularly the definitional work of scholar Katerina Clark, mental health in the Soviet Union as described by Mark Field and Jason Aronson, and a 1969 NIH report as a lens with which to analyze Beware of the Automobile and Cranes Are Flying. Hopefully, this analytical work will spark a scholarly conversation on the intersection of socialist realism, film, and mental health.

According to scholar Katerina Clark, the function of socialist realism “was to serve the ideological position and policies of the Bolshevik Party” (Clark 421). This meant that the genre had to “provide legitimizing myths for the state” and create “an emblematic figure whose biography was to function as a model for readers to emulate” (Clark 422). The decisions made at the All-Union Writers’ Conference reached the Union of Soviet Writers as well as the Artists’ Union of the USSR, meaning that the “ideological goals” of Soviet socialist realist literature applied to Soviet socialist realist cinema as well. Clark posits that “the socialist realist [work] is a kind of Bildungsroman with the Bildung, or formation of character, having more to do with public values than individual development” (426). The genre concerns itself primarily with the inculcation of socialist values in the masses who consumed it. The films in this paper, however, complicate that notion; they concern themselves with the “individual development” of a character with mental illness instead of with public values (Clark 426). Mental illness is portrayed as part of an individual’s story (which did not function as a model tale of a dedicated socialist in either case) and a frame for their interaction with the Soviet labor collective rather than a cinematic tool in building “the great and glorious future” (Clark 426).

Socialist realism was most strongly observed during Stalin’s lifetime, but after his death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev ushered in the Thaw, a period of liberalization in art, culture, and policy to such an extent that the USSR “emerging out of the Thaw was quite different from the one that entered it. Many people differed greatly in 1966 from what they had been in 1946 — in the… books they read, conversations they held… music, songs and dances they enjoyed” (Kozlov and Gilburd 484). The period is named after Ilya Ehrenburg’s The Thaw, a book famous for being the first to loosen socialist realist literary guidelines. Other authors and filmmakers followed suit, which gave rise to films like Cranes Are Flying and Beware of the Automobile. Where previous films glorified war and collective farms, the former showed the realities of battle and the latter, the neuroses of everyday life. They were not anti-Soviet; on the contrary, these films were State-sanctioned, meaning that they had to meet the criteria for socialist realism that allowed for their production during the Thaw.

Treatment of mental illness, just like socialist realism, was “made to fit, like all other organized activities in Soviet Russia, within the overall plans the regime elaborate[d] in the pursuit of its own ends of national power and self-sufficiency” (“Institutional Framework” 307). Like socialist realism, mental health care played a role in the regime’s plans, which the two scholars later list as “industrialization” and “the collectivization of agriculture,” two activities which require working in the “collective.” These goals are no different than those of socialist realism. Treatment of mental illness returned the individual to their work; the literary genre inspired them to do it.

The Soviet Union’s attitude toward each individual was that she was useful to the State as long as she could contribute to it through labor; the goal of mental health treatment was to return the individual to their function within the collective. When discussing patient care, Aronson and Field write that “medical (and psychiatric) treatment alone [were] not conceived as sufficient to restore the individual to a place of usefulness in society” (“Mental Health Programming” 921). If the duty of each citizen was to work, and he could not work, he was not being useful and could not benefit the work collective. There was no commitment to helping the worker reach his/her full potential, as in the American approach to psychology. Harold Berman substantiates the point when he says, “The purpose [of treatment of mental illness] is not to promote the welfare of the individual… but to maintain his social productivity” (315).  Aronson and Field make this particularly telling when speaking to a Soviet psychiatrist in “Mental Health Programming in the Soviet Union”: “In the Soviet Union, the goal of psychotherapy is for the individual to work within his collective” (917).

If the goal of both socialist realism and mental health treatment was to advance the State’s goals, they both had to uphold the same, official Party line that was necessary to ensure their success. This meant that mental illness had to be portrayed in cinema just as it was diagnosed in hospitals: as an individual’s inability to “work within his collective” (“Mental Health Programming” 917). Rather than preaching socialist values and focusing on mentally ill characters’ lack of productivity within the “collective,” Cranes Are Flying and Beware of the Automobile focus on characters’ development, which does not serve as a “model” for future socialists, and on their mental illness as it relates to the collective. Although all the films are socialist realist, they show flawed human beings who still work in and contribute to Soviet society, in spite of (and perhaps even thanks to) their struggles. This complication in Soviet film has not yet been discussed, and will hopefully shed some light on how the socialist realist norms of mental illness were complicated during the Thaw.

Author Commentary / Leora Eisenberg

Perhaps the most difficult part about writing this piece was tying together four seemingly unrelated things: socialist realism, Soviet film, Soviet mental healthcare, and the Thaw. It’s not intuitive to put them together, and even though I, as a student of Soviet history, might understand the connections between them, I can’t expect the same of my readers, meaning that I had to define my terms extremely clearly.

The foremost scholar of socialist realism is Katerina Clarke, whose work I happened to be quite familiar with. Her work more or less defined the term, and gave me a strong reference point throughout the entire essay.  To define the Thaw, I did use a few expert citations, but for the most part I described the time period using my prior knowledge. Within discussion of the time period, I could easily transition into era-specific Soviet film. Last but not least, I included an overview of Soviet mental healthcare, the hardest piece to relate to the other three. Once I had laid the definitional groundwork, however, it was relatively easy: the work done by Aronson and Field, among the best works on the subject, provided me with enough material to prove that the goals of socialist realism and mental healthcare were one and the same, allowing me to later effectively show that some Thaw-era films strayed from the norms I derived through Clarke’s, Aronson’s, and Field’s work.

On a somewhat different note, it’s worth mentioning how much fun this paper was to write. As a lover of Soviet film, I had the opportunity to look at it from a wholly new perspective in this paper, all while tying it back to something I had examined in class (socialist realism). Defining my terms was obviously beneficial to my reader, but it also tested my knowledge of what I had been studying for so long, as if to see if I could make a broader claim about it. 

Editor Commentary / Ian Iverson

Leora creates a daunting task for herself at the outset of this paper. Writing for a non-specialist audience, she must reconcile three disparate topics while still leaving herself plenty of space for the close-reading and analysis which will form the heart of her argument.

It was after reading the first paragraph of this excerpt (the second paragraph in her paper), that I knew she would succeed. In three short sentences, Leora concisely outlines everything we need to know moving forward. First, she reveals her motive by identifying a gap in the scholarship. In the Writing Program, we refer to this maneuver as “dropping out.” Leora is focusing on an issue on the margins of two existing scholarly conversations and employing elements of both to break new intellectual ground. Next, we get an outline of the sources she will be discussing, both primary and secondary. It is always helpful to know what we will be analyzing up front. Her third sentence outlines the goal of the paper, her thesis. One almost misses the argument at first glance, because Leora employs such diplomatic language. But this subtly lends to the power of her statement: this subfield (“the intersection of socialist realism, film, and mental health”) exists and is worth engaging. You may disagree, but you will have to contend with all of what follows  to prove her wrong.

Moving into the heart of her orienting section, Leora selects powerful quotes from a leading scholar of socialist realism to explain to a general audience what this movement hoped to accomplish. Immediately tying the broader artistic movement to the specific medium of film, Leora then clarifies how incorporating a discussion of mental illness complicates the existing conversation. This detail enhances the background information that we just received by directly injecting it into her broader argument. Next, Leora introduces The Thaw and its significance within the world of Soviet art and culture. Returning our attention to the films mentioned in the first paragraph, she details how these works, and others like them, broke new artistic ground while remaining within the confines of Soviet ideology.

In a powerful transition to her next topic, Leora draws a parallel between socialist realism and Soviet perceptions of mental illness. Once again, in three short sentences, Leora effortlessly connects two topics which appeared discrete, if not dissimilar, at the paper’s outset. Framing her discussion within the existing literature on Soviet approaches to mental healthcare, Leora primes her reader for her final orienting paragraph. Having reconciled socialist realism, The Thaw, and Soviet conceptions of mental illness to one another, she employs this passage to detail why these particular films proved so innovative. Intrigued, we enter her paper’s close-reading and analytical sections eager for the evidence that will support these provocative claims.

Works Cited

Aronson, J., & Field, M. G. (1964). Mental Health Programming in the Soviet Union. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 34(5), 913-924.

Clark, K. (2012). Socialist Realism in Soviet Literature. In From Symbolism to Socialist Realism (pp. 419-432). Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press.

Field, M. G., & Aronson, J. (1964). The Institutional Framework Of Soviet Psychiatry. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease,138(4), 305-322.

Kozlov, Denis, & Gilburd, Eleanory. (2013). The Thaw as an Event in Russian History. In The Thaw: Soviet Society and Culture During the 950s (pp. 18-81). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Rollins, Nancy. (1972). Child Psychiatry in the Soviet Union: Preliminary Observations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Zhdanov, Andrei. (1934). Soviet Literature — The Richest in Ideas. Speech presented at All-Union Writers’ Congress, Moscow.

Methods, Spring 2018

Reducing Invasive Species Establishment in the U.S. Via the Pet and Horticulture Trades

In a Tortoiseshell: In this excerpted introduction from Sonia’s research paper for a Conservation Biology course, she examines the threats posed by invasive species and past approaches taken to combat these threats. Working with an array of sources and studies, she proposes a prevention strategy of her own. This introduction is concise and effective, showcasing the necessary interplay of motive, orienting, and argument.

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Excerpt / Sonia Howlett

With the rise of international trade and commerce, invasive species have become a major global economic and environmental threat. Invasive species are one of the most common causes of species extinctions, second only to habitat degradation, and are a recognized cause of endangerment to approximately 42% of the species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (Wilcove et al. 1998; Clavero & García-Berthou 2005). An estimated 50,000 foreign species have been introduced to the United States and are estimated to cost over $120 billion annually in environmental damages and losses in the US alone (Pimental et al. 2005). Unfortunately, even as scientists and policymakers have begun to recognize the threat of invasive species, augmented globalization and free trade have increased the risk of their introduction (Bright 1999; Mack et al. 2000; Lehtonen 2005).

According to many scientific definitions, “invasive species” are non-native species that overcome the environmental and dispersal barriers to establishment and spread (Fig. 1; Blackburn et al. 2011). Many policy-makers additionally define invasive species as those that also pose an economic or environmental threat (Executive Order No. 13112 1999; Lodge et al. 2006). Therefore, some policy-makers estimate that although one-fifteenth to one-tenth of introduced species overcome establishment barriers, only one-tenth of those become invasive (US Congress OTA 1993). This paper will use the political interpretation of “invasive” and refer to “invasive species” as alien species that are both established and harmful.

Commerce in living organisms via the pet and horticulture trades is a major pathway for the introduction of invasive species (Fig. 2) and also the most ecologically damaging (Lodge et al. 2006). Although transport of pet and horticultural species accidentally introduces a wide variety of unintended “hitchhiker” species such as parasites, diseases, weed seeds, and soil micro-organisms, the majority of currently invasive plants and vertebrates in the US were introduced intentionally, often through trade in exotic plants, seeds, and animals (Mack et al. 2000; Pimental et al. 2005). Over 900 of the 25,000 exotic plants, mostly horticultural ornamentals, that were introduced to Florida have become established in the wild (Frank & McCoy 1995; Simberloff et al. 1997). Around one-third of the world’s worst aquatic invasive species are aquarium or ornamental species (Padilla & Williams 2004). Eighty-four percent of the 149 introductions of non-indigenous amphibians and reptiles in Florida occurred via the pet trade and have resulted in the establishment of many highly destructive invasive species including several types of invasive snakes such as the infamous Burmese python (Krysko et al. 2011).

In looking for a way to reduce the rate of establishment of new invasive species in the US, the primary concern should be reducing the threat from the species transported intentionally, with a secondary emphasis on reducing the threat from potential hitchhiker species. Reducing the threat from such intentionally-traded living organisms is less costly and more efficient than addressing accidental introduction (Lodge et al. 2006). This is especially true since the traits that make an organism desirable as an imported planted or pet species, such as hardiness, adaptability, rapid growth, and easy reproduction, are the same traits that make it a particularly successful invader (Bright 1999). Prevention efforts should be particularly emphasized, rather than slow-the-spread or eradication efforts, since management cost increases and effectiveness decreases with increased time since introduction (Simberloff et al. 2013).

Author Commentary / Sonia Howlett

This paper was written as a final paper for my Conservation Biology class with Professor David Wilcove. I chose to write on the prompt of “What realistic but effective steps can be taken to reduce the rate at which new harmful, invasive species become established in the USA via the pet trade and the horticulture trade?” Starting out, I knew that I wanted to structure the paper similarly to the published policy recommendations that we read in class. From having read many such papers, I had observed that most started out with a background or overview of the issue before launching into recommendations. This also appealed to me logically because it makes sense to outline the problem before presenting solutions.

In order to make my argument as coherent as possible, I decided to split the content of my paper into five sections. In the “Introduction,” excerpted here, I introduce the reader to what invasive species are, why they are a problem that needs to be addressed, and how they are coming into the US. I use this to set up the idea that we need recommendations to prevent the introduction of invasive species and to begin to narrow down what particular areas we should focus on in order to implement that. Later, in the “Current Efforts” section, I highlight what systems are currently in place, and then in the “Challenges” section I describe how and why the current efforts are insufficient. This leads me into my four “Recommendations,” which I number and address one by one. Finally, the “Conclusion” briefly summarizes the paper and highlights its importance.

Once I outlined the structure, I wrote bullet points for what I wanted to cover in each section. For the introduction, I often included not only points I wanted to make, but also space for facts and information I didn’t know yet but ultimately wanted to include, such as the role of invasive species in the US economy. Then I researched extensively, looking into all of the questions and relevant facts I had identified while outlining, as well as more that came up over the course of my research. I excerpted key quotes and facts which I copy-pasted into a separate document, organized by section. I then drew these facts and statements together into the bulk of my essay, and finally edited the paper extensively to create more of a cohesive narrative.

Editor Commentary / Myrial Holbrook

Introductions are a lot like dessert—tempting to dig into first, but often best saved for last in the writing process. Similarly, introductions should give us a taste that leaves us hungry for more. In her essay, Sonia has done precisely this: she began drafting her essay with a general outline, building in some flexibility to her argument, then researched and wrote the body of the essay, and, in the end, revisited her initial claims to ensure that they aligned with the evolution of her research. Moreover, Sonia’s introduction, while it gives us a preview of her essay, leaves us expectant as to the more detailed analysis she will undertake in the body of her essay.

What Sonia’s introduction does particularly well is lay out her methodology for her paper. As a Fellow at the Writing Center, I often see two extremes in undergraduate sourcework in papers: students deferring too readily to sources, letting their own voice get drowned out, or students trying to claim authority over sources, oversimplifying them in the process. Sonia, however, strikes a happy balance between these two extremes. In this excerpt, her introduction, for example, she successfully incorporates, via paraphrase, a wide range of sources, while maintaining her own position.

The structure of this introduction is streamlined and precise. The first paragraph motivates the paper, establishing the historical problem of invasive species. The second paragraph offers helpful orienting information by defining invasive species for this particular context. The third paragraph continues the motivating and orienting, this time with a more narrow focus that will culminate in the fourth paragraph as an evidence-based claim. With this structure, Sonia gives us the proper dosage of motive, orienting, and argument. Notably, these are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, the best papers showcase a similar kind of fluid multi-tasking.

In short, Sonia’s introduction shows her deft maneuvering of a complex issue into the context of a ten-page research paper. With an effective introduction, almost any topic can be made manageable, arguable, and tantalizing to a variety of tastes.

Professor Commentary / David S. Wilcove, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Public Affairs

For her final paper in EEB 308 (Conservation Biology), Sonia chose to write about an especially tricky problem: How do we reduce the rate at which harmful, invasive species become established in the USA due to importations of foreign plants and animals for the horticulture and pet trades, respectively?  Our collective desire for strange and beautiful plants and animals leads us to import millions of non-native plants and animals every year.  A significant number of these species subsequently escape from captivity and establish flourishing populations in the wild, often to the detriment of native plants and animals.  Some even pose a threat to human health.  The fact that this issue involves ecological questions (which species are likely to escape and become problematic?), economic questions (the pet and horticulture trade is big business), and social questions (people want to own strange, new species) makes it particularly vexing to solve.  Sonia wrote a very thoughtful, well-written assessment of the issue.  She provided a compelling overview of the problem, and she developed a set of well-reasoned, practical recommendations that would, indeed, make a difference.  It was, in all respects, an excellent example of interdisciplinary scholarship.

Works Cited

Blackburn, T. et al. 2011. A proposed unified framework for biological invasions. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 26: 333-340.

Bright, C. 1999. Invasive Species: Pathogens of Globalization. Foreign Policy 116: 50-60, 62-64.

Clavero, M. and E. García-Berthou. 2005. Invasive species are a leading cause of animal extinctions. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20: 110.

Corn, M. and R. Johnson. 2013. Invasive Species: Major Laws and the Role of Selected Federal Agencies. Congressional Research Service 7-5700.

Executive Order No. 13112. 1999. Invasive Species. Federal Register 64: 6183-6186.

Executive Order No. 13751. 2016. Safeguarding the Nation From the Impacts of Invasive Species. Federal Register 81: 88609-88614.

Frank, J., and E. McCoy.1995. Introduction to insect behavioral ecology: the good, the bad and the beautiful: non-indigenous species in Florida. The Florida Entomologist 78: 1–15.

Harriger, K. (2016). Written testimony for a House Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research, and Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture hearing titled “Defending American Agriculture Against Foreign Pests and Diseases”.

Jenkins, P. 1996. Free trade and exotic species introductions. Pages 145–147 in O. T. Sandlund, P. J. Schei, and A. Viken, editors. Proceedings, Norway/UN Conference on Alien Species. Directorate for Nature Management and Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Trondheim, Norway.

Krysko, K. et al. (2011). Verified non-indigenous amphibians and reptiles in Florida from 1863 through 2010: Outlining the invasion process and identifying invasion pathways and stages. Zootaxa 3028: 1-64

Lehtonen, P. 2005. Response to Sarah Reichard’s “The tragedy of the commons revisited: invasive species.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Forum. The Ecological Society of America.

Lodge, D. et al. 2006. Biological invasions: recommendations for US policy and management.

Ecological Applications 16: 2035-2052.

Mack R., D. Simberloff, W. Lonsdale, H. Evans, M. Clout, and F. Bazzaz. 2000. Biotic invasions: causes, epidemiology, global consequences, and control. Ecological Applications 10: 689–710.

Maki, K. and S. Galatowitsch. 2004. Movement of invasive aquatic plants into Minnesota (USA) through horticultural trade. Biological Conservation 118: 389-396.

Morrison, D. 2005. Response to Sarah Reichard’s “The tragedy of the commons revisited: invasive species.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Forum. The Ecological Society of America.

NISC (National Invasive Species Council). 2001. Meeting the invasive species challenge: national invasive species management plan 2001.

NISC (National Invasive Species Council). 2016. 2016 Management Plan: 2016–2018.Washington, D.C.

Padilla, D. and S. Williams. 2004. Beyond ballast water: aquarium and ornamental trades as sources of invasive species in aquatic ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 2: 131-138.

Pimental D., R. Zuniga and D. Morrison. 2005. Update on the environmental and economic costs associated with alien-invasive species in the United States. Ecological Economics 52: 273–288.

Reichard, S. 2005. The tragedy of the commons revisited: invasive species. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Forum. The Ecological Society of America.

Schmitz D. and D. Simberloff. 2001. Needed: a national center for biological invasions. Issues in

Science and Technology 17: 57–62.

Simberloff, D., D. Schmitz and T. Brown. 1997. Strangers in Paradise. Island Press, Washington, DC.

Simberloff et al. 2013. Impacts of biological invasions: what’s what and the way forward. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 28: 58-66.

US Congress OTA (Office of Technology Assessment). 1993. Harmful Non-Indigenous Species in the United States. OTA-F-565. U.S. Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C.

USDA APHIS (United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Inspection Service). Strategic Plan 2015-2019.

Wilcove D. et al. 1998. Quantifying threats to imperiled species in the United States. BioScience 607–15.

WTO (World Trade Organization). 1994. Agreement on the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures. Annex 1. World Trade Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.


FIG. 1. The “Proposed Unified Framework for Biological Invasions” of Blackburn et al illustrates the various barriers organisms have to pass in order to become invasive, and the management options at each stage of biological invasion. (Blackburn et al. 2011)

FIG . 2. Major pathways by which nonindigenous species enter and are transported within the United States. For the right-hand branch of pathways (Commerce in Living Organisms), each pathway also entails the possibility of other species hitchhiking on or in the species that is the focus of trade, or in the medium (e.g., water, soil, nesting material) or food of the focal species. Figure and caption courtesy of Lodge et al. (2006). Highlighting added to mark the pathways for the pet and horticulture trades.


Entering the Scholarly Conversation in Good Will Hunting 

For history geeks like me, the 1997 Academy Award-Winning Drama, Good Will Hunting, offers hope that obscure knowledge might someday be converted into social capital. In one classic scene, the secretly brilliant blue-collar bibliophile, Will Hunting (Matt Damon), comes to the rescue by engaging in a nuanced discussion of American historiography. While hanging out at a college bar in Cambridge, one of Will’s working-class friends, Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck), begins flirting with two Harvard students, claiming that he recognizes them from his history class. He is soon cornered by an arrogant graduate student, who wants to know just how much history this hard-drinking Boston “Southie” knows and asks him to reflect on his “class:”

“I was just hoping you might give some insight into the evolution of the market economy in the Southern Colonies? My contention is that, prior to the Revolutionary War, the economic modalities, especially in the Southern Colonies, could best be described as agrarian pre-capitalist.”

Seeing his friend cornered, Will swoops in and criticizes the antagonist for pulling his argument directly from a Marxian historian assigned to all first-year grad students. He then challenges his pony-tailed nemesis to engage with the work of scholars from other historiographical traditions, including James Lemon and Gordon Wood. When the grad student replies that “Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth— especially inherited wealth,” Will nails him for plagiarism, verbally citing the page of Daniel Vickers’ Famers & Fishermen: Two Centuries of Work in Essex County, Massachusetts, 1630-1850 which the student had just lifted verbatim. And asks him if he has any thoughts of his own on the matter? Exposed as a fraud, the grad student retreats in humiliation. Meanwhile, one of the Harvard girls (Minnie Driver), impressed by Will’s intellect and integrity, offers him her number.

Like any good scholar, Will demands originality from any new piece of work. This scene reminds us that engaging in a scholarly conversation requires not only an understanding of the relevant literature but also an original argument grounded in primary research. While these good scholastic practices might not make you a Casanova, they certainly are essential for any piece of academic writing.

— Ian Iverson ’18

Link to clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIdsjNGCGz4


Function and Flair: Key Words in David MacDougall’s Transcultural Cinema

Defining key words in academic writing might sometimes seem like a chore in comparison to the more exciting work of analysis. But key words are the building blocks of any good argument: only by attention to the micro-language of words and meanings can a writer construct a complex macro-language of analysis. Key words are like touchstones, places of necessary return for writer and reader alike, to continually revisit and refine concepts. The key words the writer selects and defines serve an important function in the argumentation of the paper. Perhaps less obviously, the key words present an opportunity for artistic flair as well. In the presentation key terms, the writer can build an idiosyncratic lexicon and style that lays the groundwork and enhances the larger goals of the work as a whole.

The key word is not just an excellent opportunity for orienting; it can also be an excellent opportunity for argumentation. In this passage from the opening chapter of Transcultural Cinema, filmmaker-anthropologist David MacDougall shows how the writer can put key terms to work at both function and flair. Here, he describes a key phrase, “to the quick,” in its colloquial sense, then appropriates the term to his own purposes. His definition, given in a series of progressive, dictionary-like entries, might seem excessive at first reading. But he reins himself in, and in the second paragraph quoted here, converts the intensity of this expository capital into argumentative currency: going to the quick is not only a way of understanding the experience of films for viewers, but also a way of understanding the creation of films by filmmakers themselves.

— Myrial Holbrook ’19

Our bodies provide certain metaphors for what films do. People frequently speak of going to the heart of the matter, which in documentaries usually means arriving at some useful social observation or description. In considering the “filmic,” however, it is perhaps more appropriate to speak of going to the quick. In English “the quick” has in fact a constellation of meanings. It is that which is tender, alive, or sensitive beneath an outer protective covering; that which is most vulnerable; the exposed nerve of our emotions; that which moves or touches us; which is transient, appearing only in a flash; which renews, fertilizes or “quickens” with life; which is liquescent like quicksilver: molten, bright, avoiding the touch, spilling away, changing form; that which, like quicklime or quicksand, devours, dissolves and liquefies; that which has a quality of alertness or intelligence, as of a child to learn. Out immediate impression of the quick is of an uncovering, or revelation. We experience it as a sudden exposure, a contrast between dull and sensitive surfaces.

            The quick not only provides an analogy for film experience but has a physical basis in the filmmaker’s vision. Just as the quick implies the touching of surfaces, so the filmmaker’s gaze touches—and is touched by—what it sees. A film can thus be said to look and to touch.

 (David MacDougall, Transcultural Cinema, [Princeton UP], 49-50)


Tortoise Tuesday: Using Scholarly and In-Text Motive to Understand Death in Tolstoy

Distinguishing between the two types of motive – scholarly and in-text – in an introduction can be a challenge. As an author tries to convey to the reader why their argument matters, they need a strong in-text motive: the answer to the “so what?” question as to why the argument is relevant to the text, event, or other primary source under discussion. The scholarly motive is, however, just as important: since their paper is entering a scholarly conversation on the topic at hand, the author needs to take a clear position within that conversation. This can mean agreeing with a scholar but expanding on their view, knocking down another scholar’s argument and replacing it with a new model, or any other way of engaging with the existing literature.

In this opening passage from the essay “Tolstoy and the Geometry of Fear,” Kathleen Parthé articulates both her in-text and scholarly motive from the outset as she analyzes a symbol for death in Tolstoy’s short story “Notes of a Madman” (published posthumously in 1912). She explains how an analysis of the symbol, a square figure, can help the reader to understand and appreciate the story in the context of larger questions of death and fear in Tolstoy’s work (in-text motive). She also points out why her article is necessary to Tolstoy scholarship: although the critical literature has focused on the broad theme of death in Tolstoy, it has neglected the author’s use of symbolism, leaving a gap in the scholarly conversation that Parthé now tries to fill.

—Rosamond van Wingerden ’20

“Tolstoy was repeatedly drawn to the crisis of dying because he felt that the traditional literary perception of death was inadequate, Death for Tolstoy was not just another subject; it was an important personal and aesthetic challenge. The critical literature, however, has treated death in Tolstoy only from the thematic point of view, and the devices the author chose so carefully to signify death have been for the most part unexamined and underestimated. Virtually no attention has been paid to the most unexpected of all devices: the first-person narrator in “Notes of a Madman” (“Zapiski sumasshedshego”) experiences the fear of death as “a horror – red, white, and square” (uzhas krasnyi, belyi, kvadratnyi).

The goal of this article is to demonstrate that this “square” is more than simply another interesting example of the various ways of fearing death that Tolstoy observed in himself and others. I will attempt to show how this seemingly anomalous image is actually related to a series of Tolstoyan linguistic devices for depicting death, and is in fact the ultimate device in that series. Three kinds of evidence will be offered in support of this argument: other examples in Tolstoy’s work, independent observations in linguistic and critical literature, and similar groupings of devices in writers such as Bely and Zamyatin. Finally, the square will be discussed as a type of geometric image, which, along with other mathematical borrowings, enjoyed a rich development among twentieth century artists, especially in Russia.”

(Kathleen Parthé, “Tolstoy and the Geometry of Fear,” in Tolstoy’s Short Fiction [New York: Norton & Co.], 404-5)


Tortoise Tuesday: Evidence/Analysis in Project Runway

Believe it or not, even unscripted competition shows can be understood through writing lexicon terms!

Project Runway: All Stars is a fashion face-off show where seasoned designers compete in weekly challenges for a grand prize of $100,000. Despite being unscripted, All Stars still successfully develops an argument in each episode regarding who wins and loses each challenge by providing evidence and analysis through the structure of the show. The evidence is presented in the first half of the show, as viewers watch designers go through the process of creating their looks. Through a carefully edited mixture of primary sources—like design sketches, footage of the designers working, and interviews with designers about their looks (excerpted below from episode 10 of season 5; spoiler warning!)—and secondary sources—like workroom advice from their mentor Anne Fulenwider and interviews with designers about their competitors’ looks—the audience is able to see what design choices and fashion contexts direct the analysis provided in the second half of the show. This analysis comes in the form of comments and deliberations from judges, some of which are excerpted below. The judges, who are iconic fashion designers or models themselves, discuss which elements of the designs worked and which did not. Viewers follow the logic of these critiques as they ultimately culminate in the thesis of each episode, that is, whose design was the most successful and whose was the least.

By the end of each challenge, viewers remain either convinced or unconvinced by the evidence and analysis Project Runway: All Stars presents to support each outcome. Regardless of whether they agree or not, viewers still find themselves entertained by the structure of the show’s evidence and analysis, and they inevitably find themselves tuning in week after week to experience it all over again.

— Leina Thurn ’20


Tortoise Tuesday: Beyond Just An Awards Show, Motive in Jimmy Kimmel’s Oscars Monologue

An opening monologue for an awards show like the Oscars is not something that we would usually consider argumentative writing in any formal capacity. Often riddled with cheesy jokes and jabs at Academy members, it’s difficult to view these monologues as pieces of writing that employ lexicon terms. While Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue this year did include the usual jabs and jokes, the deluge of allegations concerning sexual assault and misconduct in the film industry in recent months constituted a problem that the Oscars needed to address. In describing the Oscars, Kimmel first acknowledges the fact that historically, it has always been a show known for handing out awards. However, given the controversies of the past few months, he indicates that this ceremony in particular must be different. We can think of these controversies as a motive for the Oscars, a problem to be addressed and grappled with over the course of the show. Further, we can consider Kimmel’s final words as constituting a response to this motive: this year the Oscars weren’t meant to just be an awards show, but “a platform to remind millions of people about important things like equal rights and equal treatment” as a response to the controversies of the past months. In characterizing the Oscars as a platform for social advocacy, Kimmel adds nuance to our perception of award shows and provides an answer to the all-important question: “So what?” Whether or not the viewers believe the Oscars successfully respond to this motive ultimately depends on their analysis of the evidence: the awards, the speeches, the performances, etc.

—Ryan Vinh ’19

Excerpt from The New York Times “O.K., before we start handing out the awards, some history, because we’re going to do things a little bit differently. The first Oscar ceremony lasted, and this is true, 15 minutes, from beginning to end. And people still complained. But — so, if you do win an Oscar tonight, we want you to give a speech. We want you to say whatever you feel needs to be said. Speak from the heart. We want passion. You have an opportunity and a platform to remind millions of people about important things like equal rights and equal treatment. If you want to encourage others to join the amazing students at Parkland at their march on the 24th, do that. If you want to thank a favorite teacher, do that. Or maybe you just want to thank your parents and tell your kids to go to sleep. What you say is entirely up to you. You don’t have to change the world. Do whatever you want. But with that said, this is a really long show. So here’s what we’re going to do. Not saying you shouldn’t give a long speech, but whoever gives the shortest speech tonight will go home with — Johnny, tell them what they’ll win.”


Tortoise Tuesday: Building Motive in “The American President”

Though mostly regarded as a form of entertainment, movies oftentimes contain powerful examples of rhetoric and quality writing, especially cinematic classics. In “The American President” (1995), Michael Douglas plays President Andrew Shepherd running for reelection against Senator Bob Rumson. Well-structured and well-argued, Shepherd’s speech at the end of the movie features a series of strong motives building off one another that explains why his speech is significant and needs to be presented in that moment. Shepherd begins by addressing Rumson’s attacks on his character head-on, then transitions into discussing the fragility of the state of freedom, both heated issues in the election campaign that Shepherd must immediately handle. He then returns to the question of character by defending his girlfriend’s character, which had been attacked by Rumson. His speech ends with two concrete actions he is prepared to undertake to fix certain problems in the country, concerns brought up in the campaign trail. Throughout his speech, his motive builds and expands, as the audience comes to understand Shepherd’s purpose in delivering the speech: to clear his name from the attacks of his political rival and to prove to the American people that he is the best person for leading the nation.

—Regina Zeng ’18

For the last couple of months, Senator Rumson has suggested that being President of this country was, to a certain extent, about character. And although I’ve not been willing to engage in his attacks on me, I have been here three years and three days, and I can tell you without hesitation: Being President of this country is entirely about character.

For the record, yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU, but the more important question is “Why aren’t you, Bob?” Now this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question, why would a senator, his party’s most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President, choose to reject upholding the constitution? Now if you can answer that question, folks, then you’re smarter than I am, because I didn’t understand it until a few hours ago.

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.

Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

I’ve known Bob Rumson for years. And I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it!

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character, and you wave an old photo of the President’s girlfriend and you scream about patriotism. You tell them she’s to blame for their lot in life. And you go on television and you call her a whore.

Sydney Ellen Wade has done nothing to you, Bob. She has done nothing but put herself through school, represent the interests of public school teachers, and lobby for the safety of our natural resources. You want a character debate, Bob? You better stick with me, ’cause Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league.

I’ve loved two women in my life. I lost one to cancer. And I lost the other ’cause I was so busy keeping my job, I forgot to do my job. Well, that ends right now.

Tomorrow morning the White House is sending a bill to Congress for it’s consideration. It’s White House Resolution 455, an energy bill requiring a twenty percent reduction of the emission of fossil fuels over the next ten years. It is by far the most aggressive stride ever taken in the fight to reverse the effects of global warming. The other piece of legislation is the crime bill. As of today, it no longer exists. I’m throwing it out. I’m throwing it out and writing a law that makes sense. You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and hand guns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I’m gonna convince Americans that I’m right, and I’m gonna get the guns.

We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious people. And if you want to talk about character, Bob, you’d better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I’ll show up. This a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up.”

Andrew Shepard’s Speech From The American President